Excessive exercise in endurance athletes: Is atrial fibrillation a possible consequence?

Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2018 Sep;43(9):973-976. doi: 10.1139/apnm-2017-0764. Epub 2018 May 29.


Moderate physical activity levels are associated with increased longevity and lower risk of atrial fibrillation (AF). However, the relative risk of lone AF is 3-5-fold higher in intensive endurance-trained athletes compared with healthy adults. There is growing concern that "excessive" endurance exercise may promote cardiac remodelling, leading to long-term adverse consequences. The pathogenesis of exercise-induced AF is thought to arise from an interplay of multiple acute and chronic factors, including atrial enlargement, pro-fibrotic tendency, high vagal tone, and genotypic profile, which collectively promote adverse atrial remodelling. Clinical management of athletes with AF, while challenging, can be achieved using various strategies that may allow continued, safe exercise. Based on the overall risk-benefit evidence, it is premature to suggest that excessive exercise is unsafe or should be curtailed. Evidence-based assessment and treatment guidelines are required to ensure optimal and safe exercise among the growing number of endurance athletes with AF.

Keywords: aging; atrial fibrillation; cardiac remodeling; exercice physique; exercise; fibrillation auriculaire; remodelage cardiaque; vieillissement.

MeSH terms

  • Athletes
  • Atrial Fibrillation / epidemiology*
  • Exercise*
  • Humans
  • Physical Endurance*
  • Risk Assessment